Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach, by Nick Emmel, SAGE Publications, 2013, 192 pp

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    Liia L
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    Book review

    Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach, by Nick Emmel, SAGE Publications, 2013, 192 pp

    The book Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research, by Nick Emmel, is, like the title lets to assume, about sampling and choosing cases. The main audience of the book are postgraduate students and researchers; for an average undergraduate it might be too demanding. The book is a good supplement to the books like Chamaz’ (2006) Constructing Grounded Theory. Though Emmel finds ‘the term sampling not fit for purpose’ (p. 1) in qualitative research, he feels obliged to follow the widely used terminology.

    The book is divided into two clearly separate parts – a theoretical/methodological and a more practical part. The parts have been respectively divided into three and six chapters. The first part is a methodological investigation. The three chapters of it focus on the three cases of sampling strategy – theoretical, purposeful, and theoretical or purposive. Emmel provides kind of a critical review, by analyzing different interpretations of theoretical sampling in grounded theory (including historical view of it) by different scholars. He also focuses on the Patton’s 14+1 strategies for purposeful sampling.

    The second part is comprised of six chapters and deals with ’choosing cases in scientific realist qualitative research’ (p 69), which is illustrated with rich variety of examples. Sampling helps to understand the relation between the theory and evidence. Emmel reminds us that there are at least three sources of powers and liabilities (both external and internal) of sampling – sets of ideas and theories of researchers to frame the sample; the institutions and the social contexts within which the research is done; and ‘the ongoing working through of insights from evidence and researchers’ conjectures, presuppositions, and propositions that make up the acts of explanation and interpretation’ (p 86). These powers and liabilities are reflected upon in almost every chapter of the second part of the book. A short chapter (Chapter 8) is devoted to the sample size, emphasising that more relevant than the number of the cases is what we do with the cases. In realist research the sample size alone does not determine the quality of research, the interpretation and explanation are more relevant. The Chapter 9 provides a short summary on the ‘key methodological and practical features of choosing cases in qualitative research in a realist approach’ (p 157). Through all the chapters Emmel analyses the role of the researcher, showing how the researcher transforms the sample into cases and interprets these.

    Some parts of the book can be quite demanding for a non-native speaker of English and therefore might require re-reading. All in all, this is a good book, as long as the reader has a previous knowledge of the topic.

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